Father Michael Kelly, who was removed as pastor of St. Joachim’s Catholic Church in Lockeford after a jury found him liable of childhood sexual assault, has flown to his native Ireland for what Kelly describes as needed medical treatment.
Kelly, 62, wrote a letter dated Sunday to Stockton Diocese Bishop Stephen Blaire, saying that he was already in Ireland. Blaire said in a news release that he was stunned when he saw Kelly’s letter Monday afternoon.
“I have tried to reach Father Kelly by email and by phone to implore him to return and see the trial through to its completion,” Blaire said in a news release.
Kelly is under a subpoena to testify today in the second phase of a lawsuit in Stockton, according to Orange County attorney John Manly, who represents the plaintiff in the civil lawsuit.
Kelly, pastor at St. Joachim’s for the past eight years, was found liable of sexually assaulting a former Stockton altar boy in the mid-1980s. The trial’s second phase is to determine whether the Stockton Diocese is also liable and to award damages to the plaintiff.
The plaintiff’s name is being withheld by court order because the jury determined that he is a sexual assault victim.
“We notified opposing counsel in the civil trial as well as law enforcement authorities in Calaveras County, where a criminal investigation has been underway since September,” Blaire said.
The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Department is investigating an allegation by a young adult that Kelly sexually assaulted him in Calaveras County between 2000 and 2002. The investigation has not been completed, and detectives in San Andreas are looking to see if there are any other potential victims, sheriff’s spokesman Chris Hewitt said Monday.
The Calaveras County investigation is not related to the civil trial in Stockton.
“I am saddened greatly by Father Kelly’s illness and his devastation brought about by the finding on the repressed memory claim of abuse,” Kelly’s attorney, Tom Beatty, said in an email. “I believe it is important for Father Kelly to be present for the damages phase of the case, but he feels he has lost everything already. I hope to talk with him shortly.”
Manly, the plaintiff’s attorney, said that flying to Ireland shows that Kelly is guilty of sexual assault on a 10-year-old boy in the 1980s.
“He was very concerned that he might get arrested in Calaveras County,” Manly said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. “I don’t feel sorry for him.”
Manly said he believes that Kelly received help in leaving the United States.
“I don’t think Father Kelly ran on his own,” Manly said. “There are a lot of powerful people in Stockton. God help him when law enforcement finds out.”
Manly said that whoever helped Kelly escape the country could be arrested for aiding and abetting.
Two parishioners at St. Joachim’s were saddened to hear the news that Kelly had left the country.
“It’s horrible,” Stockton resident John Ravetti said. “He’s just a good, good man. It’s an unbelievable mindbender.”
Brigid Jenkins, who lives east of Lodi, said she realizes that as Catholics, her family is aware that some priests are pedophiles, but she doesn’t believe Kelly is one of them.
“I still have faith in the man, and I believe he is innocent,” Jenkins said. “In the Catholic faith, God’s will will be done, and the truth will come out. I believe he has been persecuted to the point where his health has really suffered.”
Jenkins said that her family has attended St. Joachim’s for almost seven years. Before that, they lived in Woodbridge and attended St. Christopher’s Catholic Church in Galt.
“Our prayers and thoughts are for Father Kelly,” Jenkins said.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.